The boat is definitely Fast, I paddled the Adirondack Canoe Classic a 90 mile race in 16 hours, and being a performance kayak tender by rec boat or wide touring standards, but as a performance boat has very good stability, especially the secondary stability. The rudder is effective and if you lean to the outside of the turn along with kicking the rudder over the Marlin turns very well. The volume in the bow allows the Marlin to handle big water very well. The seat: I've got a 5/8" ensolite pad glued on it is the most comfortable kayak seat I've ever used, the high back of the bucket seat gives just the right amount of back support, I once paddled the Marlin for 9 hours straight 50 miles, and was still comfortable as could be expected at the end of the day. The Marlin has a very efficient rudder, but the attachment of the rudder to the pivot pin is weak and I did have to repair it , 2 years later, it is fine.
A slight leak in the rear bulkhead that a bit of silicone caulk fixed are my only complaints, the hull construction is great, those deficiencies are why the rating is not a 10. Performance gets a rating of 10, comfort a 10, and it just looks good.
I am 6 feet 215 lbs and it fits me great. The seat is a perfect match to my behind and it's built so there's no need for a back band. I have an Epic V8 to compare it to and it is slightly less stable and probably feels like the 18X stability wise. The boat is a very fast round chine with a definitive v shaped Hull. My 36 lbs CK layup is amazingly light and fun to paddle with room in the Hatches for a lot of Gear.
I would give it a 9 if it had a day hatch and 10 if it also had the flat bottomed hull of the 18x sport/v8 which would give me a little more primary stability.
The feeling first overcame me surfing 3 foot rollers in 25mph winds down the Carquinez Straits of the SF Bay Area. I just wanted to shout "Yahoo." I had just sold my Epic 18X Ultra after 20 months of a love-hate relationship and it was so nice to just have an uncomplicated "love." It wasn't that the Epic wasn't a good boat. It just never fit me right and so I never paddled it right. At 145 pounds I just never got enough of it in the water. I often felt like a cork on the sea when the wind and waves rose. No more. Not with the Nemo.
I also had some problems with the 18X Ultra. It delaminated badly between the Kevlar and Nomex core 11 months into my ownership. Epic was great about this. My dealer, California Canoe and Kayak, contacted Greg Barton one day and he approved an out of stock immediate replacement the next day. I couldn't have asked for better service. But then I've had a problem with the Nemo too. The rudder spindle shaft threads stripped off the rudder housing block. Well, same story there. I sent Gray Bourne an email one day and the next he shipped a replacement upgraded to his 2009 standards.
The moral of the story is that all kayaks have problems. No two come off the line the same. What you really want is a dealer and manufacturer who will work with you. I'm sure there is the occasional "horror" story for anyone in the retail industry. I found both companies to be very reasonable in standing behind their products. I never got used to the seat in the Epic. I replaced it with a K-1 seat which was easy to retrofit with a standard carbon platform mounted to the Epic seat rail with some added shims. I liked it so much I thought I would do the same when I got the Nemo but I didn't need to as a I can rotate to my hearts content in the Nemo's stock seat.
The accessories (like deck lines, handles and such) are not as nice on my early 2008 vintage Epic boat as those on the Nemo. The Epic gear is easily replaced but it would be nice if newer models had better materials to begin with. Maybe they now do.
Speed? They both have it. At any given heart rate over the same flat course I would race myself to a dead heat. I'd win in the Nemo if the conditions were rough. Again, I believe this because of my size and the better fit the Nemo offers me.
How fast? In a race with dozens of kayaks and skis last weekend I was the first kayak in and just behind the second to the winning pod of skis. It was really fun to dog the skis in a sea kayak even if I couldn't beat the very best of them because I could turn right around and load the Nemo with a week's worth of gear and head up the coast. They couldn't...
First, to give some credence, I have owned and paddled a Kayakpro Marlin (Nemo) for a year and a half and put in many miles (hundreds) in varying conditions. I also own a QCC as well as a Fenn Mako 6. Previous kayaks include several years with the comparable Epic Endurance Ultra as well as a different Kayakpro model, the Jet, a good K1-style trainer for smaller paddlers (I am 6'1", 180 lbs and did not really fit the boat). I have paddled quite a few other models in these categories as well.
The Marlin (which is also the Nemo with a bit larger cockpit area) is lined up to compare with fast "sea kayaks", good primarily for training and racing but can also be used for some touring. Other popular boats in the U.S. that fall in this category are the Epic Endurance, Seda Glider, QCC 700X, Current Designs Stratus (Freedom)… I believe all these models are pretty close in speed, capable of winning the same race with the same paddler, and the Marlin is built to do the same. On a speed scale of 1 – 10, the Marlin would fall on the upper range. It is a fast 18 ft. composite kayak. It has a very sharp bow, open cockpit for paddling in the K1-style position as well as good rotation. And, along with the Freedom, comes in as probably the lightest of the group by perhaps a pound or so.
Now the downsides. On quality construction and durability, the QCC would probably rank highest, then the Glider, the Endurance, the Stratus, and finally at the bottom, the Marlin. I believe the Marlin is, in fact, a potential safety hazard in all but the most benign conditions. Here are the reasons why I would choose differently in purchasing my boat today. Here is a summary of my experience, from placing my order to present:
The whole footboard assembly is difficult to adjust. I discovered that, although the Marlin was touted for larger paddlers, you could not push the assembly far into the hull for a longer paddler (I am "tall" but not long-legged)! The footboard would scrape on the inside hull after a certain point. I sawed the extreme upper corners off the footboard in order to get it to fit farther. Next is the bungee cord-based "gas peddle" system. The whole design makes it unnecessarily complicated to modify for different paddlers. Not to bore with details and remedies, it should have the bungee reverse tension set directly on the retractable footboard assembly, not around an anchored screw at the front of the boat hull. This would eliminate having to go through the huge gymnastics of undoing that cord way down there every time there is a change of footboard position (say for a different paddler). This would also keep the bungee tension the same all the time, not tighter or looser with the change of the footboard. I ended up modifying my model with a marine pulley so as to make it a little less cumbersome and significantly more fluid.
Finally, in concluding the cable steering system, the snapped cables are a big concern and other paddlers have also mentioned it. The weak link has to do with some basically-useless micro adjustment knobs. They look good on paper and are fine for a K1 sprint model boat but completely unnecessary for a real sea kayak. In fact, they only serve to cause additional weak links in the cable line. The cable can be adjusted just fine by unscrewing the cable ties at the rudder just like 99% of all other sea kayaks.
I ordered the carbon/Kevlar 36 lb layup in October - I didn't care that much about the weight savings, but I thought the $500 extra was worth it for stiffness and durability. Delivery was first estimated to be early December, but ended up being February. If you have to miss paddling months, missing Dec/Jan/Feb is the best way to go. The boat's yellow over white finish, the interior and all the fittings looked great. It really is purty.
The first problem was that when the boat showed up, there were no hatch covers - those were being shipped separately. So, I got out some garbage bags and rubber bands and covered the hatches and put-in on Triadelphia. Boy, is the Marlin fast compared to what I had been paddling - I am back to being the limiting factor in speed, vs. the boat. Doing a loop where I would push to average 5.2 mph in the Capella became an effortless 5.8 mph average in the Marlin. In sprinting, I still haven't hit the point where the boat just won't go faster, I always give out first. Plus, what a difference carrying a 40 lb kayak instead of a 65 lb kayak!
The hatch covers came in a few days later and I ran into the next problem - the small round front hatch cover was a tight fit and when I tried to push it on, the plastic hatch rim immediately separated from the kayak shell. A gentle tug on the large rear oval hatch rim caused that one to come off, too. Phone calls to KayakPro resulted in them sending marine epoxy and me scraping off the old adhesive, scoring the hatch rims and clamping and gluing them back on - a royal pain in the neck, especially on the large, oval rear hatch. But once that was done, I was back on the reservoir having a great time.
The next problem occurred when I finally got out on some textured water, a 20 mile paddle down the Patuxent River. The paddle started out with slight following winds but we hit a section where 1-2 foot (more 1 foot than 2 foot) confused seas started hitting us broadside and I immediately felt squirrelly and bloop - had an unintended swimming event. To someone who paddles racing kayaks, the Marlin probably feels like paddling a canoe. For me (who gets very little time on rougher water and has zero native balancing skill), the stability profile of the KayakPro is very different from the Capella - much less initial stability but probably stronger secondary.
Since then I've had a little bit of time in slightly rougher water and I'm starting to feel much more confident in the Marlin. Even I can tell that for a fast boat it is very stable - in both dimensions (speed and stability) the paddler is the limiting factor. By taking advantage of the adjustable seat and footpedal positioning, I was able to move my position forward which seemed to help stability quite a bit for me.
One last problem occurred when the rudder assembly fell off during a paddle on Triadelphia Reservoir. Turns out the threaded stud that the rudder pivots on had never been fully threaded into the rudder assembly and it had wobbled and stripped the lower threads. Some help from KayakPro and multiple Nemo owner Cyndi J. helped me get it re-installed and KayakPro is sending replacement parts.
Those are the only negatives I've experienced. Paddling the Marlin is a lot of fun. It has enough sea kayak features (two hatches, decent deck rigging) to be reliable for fast day touring. It is fast enough to be competitive in the fast touring categories in races. The rudder system with the gas pedal type controls makes steering and correcting a snap, while still providing firm support for leg pushing. I really like the seat - it doesn't have any back support, but every back rest I've used in a kayak has just ended up chafing my back and I don't miss it at all. I have plenty of padding on my rear end, but others might want to add a pad.
I've now had the KayakPro Marlin for about 6 months and probably have about 250 miles in it. Summary review:
Fit and finish - the hull and shell are great, very professional job. I find the seat very comfortable and I like the adjustability with one negative - the track that accepts the sliding seat bolt has a cutout just about where my optimum position wants to be. I guess the cutout is to make it easier to drop the bolt in vs. having to slide it in at the end of the track, but it does limit positioning choices. The rudder can not be raised or lowered from the cockpit, not an issue for racing but I'd rather be able to launch and land with the rudder up and you really can't do that with the Marlin unless someone is there to help you.
Workmanship - with the hatch rims and rudder falling off, obviously KayakPro has some process and quality assurance issues to work through. Their support has been great in dealing with the problems. I would also like them to include a manual or at least information on how to adjust the rudder and pedal control system since neither is intuitively obvious. The front hatch stays dry as a bone but I do get a few spoonfuls of water in the rear hatch, most likely due to my amateur job of clamping and re-gluing the large oval rear hatch rim back on.
Speed - top of the line for a sea kayak/racer hybrid. In the recent Broadkill 10 mile race I went from 1 hour 40 minutes killing myself in the Capella in 2007 to 1 hour 29 minutes in the Marlin paddling hard but less effort in 2008, under nearly identical water conditions.
Stability - I underestimated the difference between more stable, harder chined boats and a faster more rounded hull. As I've gotten more time in the Marlin I can see I'm the problem, not the boat. Anyone with decent roughwater skills will consider it very stable.
Tracking, maneuverability - at just under 18 feet long with a very sharp, nearly vertical bow, the Marlin isn't nimble. The rudder system works great, edging really makes it turn but it is really a boat mainly designed to go forward. Without the rudder it does weathercock a bit more than the Capella but not all that much. With the rudder down, not an issue of course. It plows through oncoming waves really well and seems much easier to control on following seas than the Capella.
Durability - I was concerned to move away from a plastic boat, since I'm not real gentle on bikes or boats. The Marlin has come away with the usual hull scratches but, with a decent amount of knocking around and no real babying, there have been no gouges or cracks or warps or anything.
Bottom line - I'm never going to be someone who has 5 or 6 kayaks, so the Marlin turned out to be exactly what I wanted: a boat fast enough to make me be the limiting factor in fitness training and local races but also fun and usable for touring day trips. If I really wanted to go deep in either racing or multi-day touring I'd pick a different more specialized boat. However, for doing my usual training paddles, local races and local day tours like Wye Island or the Eastern Neck, the Marlin is fast and fun (and easy to carry) all at the same time.